The southeast face of Mt. Edgar (6618m), Gongga Shan massif, Western Sichuan Province, China, as viewed from below base camp. Jonny Copp and Micah Dash, with filmmaker Wade Johnson, were to attempt a new route on this face but likely were caught in an avalanche below advanced base camp (ca. 4000m). The bodies of Copp and Johnson were discovered and identified earlier this week; rescue efforts by Chinese and American teams continue in search of Dash. [Photo] Roland Zeidler
The loss of Jonathan “Jonny” Copp, 35, Wade Johnson, 24, and Micah Dash, 32, has deeply shaken the climbing community, their families and their friends, affecting all who knew these talented young men and all whom they inspired.
The three Boulder, Colorado climbers disappeared on an expedition to the Gongga Shan massif in China’s Western Sichuan Province. Earlier this week, a Chinese search-and-rescue team found the bodies of Copp and Johnson, as well as some of Dash’s gear, among avalanche debris. They have not yet discovered Dash’s body.
The trio left base camp (ca. 3000m) on May 20 to climb a new route on the southeast face of Mt. Edgar (6618m), a peak lying northeast of Mount Gongga, aka Minya Konka (7587m). After leaving base camp, they made no further radio contact.
On June 3, the climbers missed their flight out of Chengdu, China. Copp had directed the Adventure Film Festival; his producer Mark Reiner coordinated search efforts from the Boulder office. The Sichuan Mountaineering Association quickly rallied four Chinese climbers to begin a search on June 4. Additionally, about twenty Chinese troops gave ground support. Three American teams (Eric Decaria and Nick Martino, Pete Takeda and Steven Su, Mick Follari and Nick Rosen) subsequently joined the rescue attempt.
The Chinese team located Copp’s body first, below advanced base camp (ca. 4000m); his body was identified on June 7. They found Johnson’s body the next day. “Necessary precautions have been taken” with their remains, adventurefilm.org reported.
It appears an avalanche struck the climbers while they were approaching their route. The cause of the slide is unknown.
At first light today, Decaria, Martino, Takeda and Su began another search from base camp. Follari and Rosen arrived in Chengdu yesterday and are en route to Moxi, where they will establish an ad hoc headquarters to support teams on the mountain as necessary.
Copp (left) and Dash climbing in Kashmir; Johnson at the Sender Films office in Boulder, Colo. [Photo] Jonny Copp / adventurefilm.org
Copp and Dash, alpinists of the highest level, had traveled the world establishing new routes, often as partners. They’d received the Mugs Stump Award to attempt the line on Mt. Edgar (Dash also applied a deferred Lyman Spitzer grant toward the expedition). Two years before, the duo had made the first ascent of Shaffat Fortress, in India’s Zanskar range, via the Colorado Route (VI 5.11 M6 A1, 21 pitches, 1100m), displaying the combination of technical difficulty, alpine style and remote location that became their trademark.
From new routes on home crags like the Black Canyon and a winter speed record on the Diamond to linkups and first ascents in Patagonia (Southern Cross [V 5.11 A1, 950m] on Aguja Poincenot with Dylan Taylor in 2002), Pakistan (Freebird [VI 5.11d A1, 1060m] with Mike Pennings on Cat’s Ears Spire in 2000) and Alaska (Going Monk [V AI6 M6, 4,300′] with Kelly Cordes on Peak 13,790′ in 2003), to name just a few–Copp represented alpinism at its most impeccable and most futuristic, bringing the traditional philosophy of a rope, rack and a pack to some of the world’s most challenging peaks and walls. Copp wrote about some of these hard, fast and light adventures for Alpinist in Issues 0 and 11. In addition to his regular photo contributions, he served as an invaluable resource and inspiration.
Dash made a similar strong impact on climbing, with his alpine-style blitzes at home in the Rockies and abroad in Pakistan (Super Cat [VI 5.11 R A1, 1060m, 27 pitches], a variation to the Copp-Pennings line on Cat’s Ear Spire for its second ascent) and Greenland (the first free ascent of Nalumasortoq’s right pillar via Non Ca Due Senza Tre [VI 5.11+ R, 800m, 21 pitches]).
Though Johnson did not plan to summit Mt. Edgar with Copp and Dash, he was also an avid climber, as well as an associate producer for Sender Films. He had accompanied his good friends Copp and Dash to film a number of their recent adventures.
On Supertopo.com, in a thread entitled “To Those that have Fallen in the Field,” user philo wrote, “I would argue that [climbers die] defending our freedom. At the very least the freedom of individuals to choose. Certainly they were not sent forth into battle by orders of a command structure. They choose of their own free will to enter the fray. Certainly they were not sent to destroy an enemy. They went to expand the human potential. There is a poignant grace and greatness to that.”
A memorial page for Copp, Dash and Johnson has been set up at Facebook.com. Media contact Robb Shurr said earlier posts about a June 21 memorial service have been revised; services will be held later.
The rescue effort is still moving forward. A fund to assist in search and rescue and an informational blog have been established at adventurefilm.org. “We have such a great community,” Shurr said, “and though the families have been contributing, we want to do the rescue effort as independently as possible.” Fund money collected that exceeds rescue fees will support memorial services.
Alpinist.com will post updates as more news becomes available.
Boulder Theater gives tribute to Jonny Copp. [Photo] Eric Frigard